The Need for Personal Counsel in Claims/Lawsuits Arising from DUI Accidents
Sean K. McQuaid
Over the past few years, there has been a growing trend of lawsuits following accidents involving a DUI defendant. If you have been involved in an accident while driving impaired which resulted in injuries to another person, the criminal court penalties are only one of the concerns you will face. It is commonplace that you may be threatened by huge lawsuits in civil court.
Following a DUI arrest, you will need to hire a criminal defense attorney to handle the criminal charge, which often results in a plea to the crime. Because most criminal attorneys have little-to-no experience in civil litigation, you may be left unprepared for the massive money demands that may follow your DUI charges. For the plaintiff, the best time to file a lawsuit is after guilt has been established in the criminal court, leaving no question about liability and very few defenses for you, the defendant. These civil claims frequently result in lawsuits as a result of the ease in obtaining punitive damages. Under Florida law, plaintiffs are not only entitled to seek punitive damages for accidents involving DUI, but there are also no caps or limits to the amount of money the plaintiff can win against you (Fl.Stat. § 768.736).
Once the lawsuit is filed, your insurance company may provide a lawyer to represent you on this civil matter; however, it is important to realize that this lawyer is picked and paid by the insurance company. The lawyer is also entering the case at a later point and may not be prepared to address important negotiating positions such as the collectability of a judgment and whether your assets are protected. What most defendants also do not know is that insurance policies do not cover punitive damages and the insurance companies will not pay more to settle the case in order to protect you. This position can leave many people twisting in the wind facing huge verdicts and pressure to pay a settlement out of pocket for fear of losing everything. This is a real issue that does not garner enough attention. So, if you make a mistake by committing a DUI with injuries, ask your defense attorney if they are familiar with civil law. If they are not, find a second lawyer or someone that is experienced in both areas of law to advise you. I have handled many of these cases from both perspectives and can tell you that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are steps that can be taken to limit your exposure and save your assets if handled properly.
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